Should looters be shot?

Enough has already been written by others about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, so I’ll pose the question most interesting to me now. I don’t remember a situation deteriorating as fast as the one in New Orleans since the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict, and I feel comfortable saying that this is worse by a huge margin. So, should looters be shot?

I’ll point you to this post by KipEsquire for reference on my thinking. Consider:

I therefore think it’s wrong to call Katrina victims who are robbing stores for food, water or first aid supplies “looters.” Trespassers, certainly, but trespassers entitled to assert the privilege of “private necessity.” Of course, if such “acquirers” are ethical and if the logistics of the recovery and rebuilding allow it, then they should attempt to make restitution later on. But legally and morally they are entitled not to be condemned as “looters.”

On the other hand, stealing televisions or laptops or weapons or anything else above and beyond the barest essentials for life most certainly does constitute “looting” and should be prevented by any means necessarily, including the use of deadly force.

I agree with his assessment. Yet, when I had this discussion with my brother today, he disagreed vehemently with me, stating that we can’t shoot people for property. I think I’m right, but I’m curious to read what other people think. To hopefully sway your thinking, consider this analysis, which is what I argued when discussing the necessary response to looting.

I fully acknowledge that shooting looters is an inappropriately disproportionate response if one views looting as mere larceny. But one doesn’t shoot looters to protect property, one does so to protect order. Somebody is going to suffer unjustly when society breaks down. I don’t understand why Muller thinks it preferable for the law-abiding citizens to be the cost-bearers. History has shown repeatedly that the way to stop an anarchic riot is an early display of substantial force.

I’m willing to consider shades of grey, such as stealing televisions versus carjacking and armed robbery of hospital narcotics. Also of interest, what about looters stealing firearms? Are they stealing them to defend themselves or to form roving gangs?

So, please, post comments if you have an opinion. I think anyone stealing non-essentials should be shot because the need to restore order is above all else because stability precedes the emergency officials’ ability to respond. What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Should looters be shot?”

  1. Hi Tony, Looters to be shot? Well all depends on what they are looting uh?
    I know you don’t know this. My youngest left to teach school on the 8th of August in a parish right outside New Orleans. He escaped. But a lot of his belongings had to be left behind. He came home yesterday,a complete nervous wreck. Not because of what might be stolen but by the friends he had already made in his short time in the area.
    This is what is so tragic,not being able to communicate with his friends. I have had the TV on almost 24 hrs. I can’t seem to turn it off.

  2. The basic rule, in law and ethics, is “use as much force, but no more, than is necessary to stop the force being against you.”
    So, it is not merely “using force to protect property.” It is “using force to prevent looting.”
    If the minimum amount of force necessary to prevent the looting is deadly force, then so be it.
    “What are we supposed to use — harsh language?”
    –A line from “Aliens”

  3. The property is irrelevant because it can all be replaced. However, some force of law must remain if New Orleans is to ever be redeemable. That’s the point I tried to make to my brother, for the reason inherent in Diana’s comment. If her son is to find any of his new friends again, they have to be protected from roving gangs of looting thugs.

  4. As desperate as the situation is, I doubt that there are many people in peril of actually starving in the space of 4 days.
    I would greatly prefer that deadly force not be used to protect “property.” But, whatever means are necessary to maintain civil order should be employed. If it takes deadly force to do so, then so be it.
    In Africa, people have been “starving” for years. The lawless factions have been a significant factor in keeping aid from them. I don’t want to see that happen here.
    I do think that the looters should be sequestered and they should be the last ones out. I can’t speak for everyone who looted but from what I have seen on CNN, most people were not stealing food and water, they were stealing electronics (yeah, go ahead and plug those puppies in) and liquor.
    Again, I was reared on the Gulf coast. I know that transportation was made available to EVERYONE who wished to weather the storm in a designated shelter. City buses, local churches and civic organizations ALWAYS set up services to shuttle people. Even Taxi companies provide free transportation. I truly believe that 99% of the people who stayed in their homes did so out of CHOICE.
    The people of New Orleans were told that evacuation was MANDATORY yet tens of thousands of people (or more) refused to act. They wanted to protect their “stuff” or they thought they were too smart or tough or too something to have to follow directions. They thought wrong. And, now they are bearing the consequences.
    My heart goes out to all of the people who have lost their lives, homes, and livelihoods. It is a tragedy of immense proportions. Even so, the death toll could have been reduced to practically zero by chosing personal safety over personal belongings. Now, other people are risking their own lives to save them. I have seen this happen time and time again, just not at this magnitude.
    My family and friends left New Orleans and the local area. Some are in Natchez, MS and some are in Houston and a few other Texas cities. Soon, a few may be living with me for the duration. They are grieving for their losses but, even more, they and we are so very grateful for their safety. They may have lost their “stuff” but we have them (and their cats and dogs) safe and well and life will go on.

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